Although being the benevolent de facto dictator and primary songwriter of The New Pornographers, Carl Newman has been sage enough to share singing duties with Dan Bejar, Neko Case and – more latterly – Kathryn Calder, over the band’s increasingly successful four studio records to date. So when it comes to his solo side-project – which began with 2004’s The Slow Wonder – much of the appeal depends on whether you have the lust for a New Pornos album without all the extra-special personnel divvying-up lead microphone duties. This second ‘A.C. Newman’-monikered set tacitly acknowledges and tests such a question of affection; which is both its strength and occasional weakness.
Stylistically-speaking, Get Guilty veers little from the blueprints originally sketched-out by Newman’s early-career in Zumpano and drawn to near-perfection with The New Pornographers. This means more kinetic keyboards, strummed layers of six-strings, stomping percussion and multi-tracked vocals, all wrapping-up power-pop-meets-glam-rock packages.
Newman wastes little time from the opening “There Are Maybe Ten Or Twelve…” in sprinting from the starting-blocks with a melodic avalanche that initially threatens to overcome proceedings with a tad too much gusto and not enough subtly or variety. It feels as if the relatively more sedate tempos that restrained the last New Pornos LP – 2007’s Challengers – left Newman with too much pent-up and ready-to-blow zest. Thus, his imploding energy splatter does leave a few songs – like “The Collected Works” and “All Of My Days And All Of My Days Off” – dampened in over-similarity. But given more time, richer details reveal themselves song-by-song, even if the sustained speediness and arrangements alter little.
Hence, there’s much pleasure to be derived from the electro-acoustic scuffling “Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer,” the soaring crescendo-building through “The Heartbreak Rides,” the blissful sing-along “Prophets” and the harmony-enveloped “Elemental,” which might have warranted inclusion on 2005’s Twin Cinema – arguably the best New Pornos release so far. Ultimately however, as with the aforementioned Challengers, some of the most effective moments are the slower ones, such as the swooning “Young Atlantis” and the strings-tensioned “Thunderbolts,” with Newman’s female backing foils providing the Case/Calder-like counterpoint chemistry that might otherwise leave us tired-out by his best-in-moderation pipes.
Get Guilty is unlikely to bust Carl Newman out beyond his inherited fan-base but neither is it likely to disappoint those listening out for more-of-the-same, albeit with obvious but not crippling disadvantages. Next time, extra divergence and greater comfort-zone violation could make for a more adventurous affair, rather than just a respectable pre-practiced one. In the interim though, Get Guilty is still worthy of judicial spinning.